July 23, 2001
WELL, I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU but I had a pretty terrific time at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. If you
were there, you probably did, as well. The place was packed and while no official attendance has yet been reported, they probably cracked the
50,000 mark with ease — which is all the more amazing at a time when you remember that very few comic books can sell even half that many
copies per month. The spirit inside the hall was good, the people were all interesting (every last one of them) and, yes, Gene Colan was
properly surprised at his surprise party. This is not to say there were not gripes, most of which had to do with the proverbial embarrassment
"The Exhibit Hall is just too big." It is. It was too big last year and, this time around, it was even bigger
— so big, in fact, that several folks told me they just gave up on the concept of seeing all or most of it and instead picked one section to
explore. With even more expansion planned for the future, I think the day is near when the con will have to be sub-divided; to have one section
of the hall devoted wholly to publishers, one to back issue dealers, one to anime dealers, etc. This brings us to...
"Look how much of this place is not about comics!" Every year, less and less of Comic-Con International has to do with
comic books while more and more is about motion pictures, animation, video games, glamour art and so on. I don't know if this trend is bad for
the convention — I suspect it isn't — but it sure doesn't bode well for the publishing of comic books.
"There are too many events I want to attend opposite each other!" This year, the con had more than 300 programming
items, including panels, lectures, presentations, film previews and seminars. I oughta know; I felt like I hosted about half of them.
There have always been good and intriguing events occurring simultaneously but, if the comments I heard are any indicator, this is becoming more
frustrating to some, having to pick which once-in-a-lifetime panel they're going to miss in favor of which other once-in-a-lifetime panel.
(Fortunately, this year, all but one of the dozen panels I moderated were videotaped...though no one yet seems certain how and where those tapes
might be available for viewing. I'll be presenting partial written transcripts here in the weeks to come but that's not like actually seeing
and hearing the full event.)
"Where have all the Booth Babes gone?" This was only a gripe of some. Others were pleased that there were fewer
unclad women about to hawk tawdry products. There was, however, one young lady strutting about dressed in something crocheted out of about ten
yards of dental floss, her plasticity almost inviting one to wager on which parts of her, if any, were original equipment. Were I a betting
man, I'd have laid a hundred bucks on clavicle and wisdom teeth.
"As the con gets bigger and bigger, the food gets worse and more outrageously priced." This is true. Next year,
I'm packing a lunch. I also heard tales of folks parking miles away and/or paying a few appendages for the privilege.
These are, of course, "complaints" that stem from the success of the convention. They wouldn't exist if the thing weren't as
popular as it's become, and it wouldn't be as popular if it weren't so damn much fun. Ergo, the peeves aren't likely to go away in the future,
especially if the convention operators continue to do their usual fine job of convention operating.
By the way, to those of you who are e-mailing me to say you loved one or more of the panels I moderated: A lot of the credit should go
to the con's splendid programming director, Gary Sassaman. And, in the spirit of learning from bad examples, some should go to all the
dreadful, miscast panels I've been on and/or hosted at conventions over the last three decades. I believe that if you get the right panelists
together with the proper topic, a rhesus monkey could moderate and you'd have an interesting panel. (Matter of fact, wouldn't you go to see a
panel moderated by a rhesus monkey? I know I would.)
In the past, I've witnessed or participated in too many discussions of errant conception. One too-common mistake is to pack the
dais with more participants than can comfortably be accommodated by the time constraints. Some cons think they have to put every guest on some
panel or if, say, they're having something called a "Golden Age Panel," they have to include every body on the premises that was in comics before
1970. I once moderated a Golden Age Panel with, I think, 18 people on it and it was ridiculous — especially since two of them were Julius
Schwartz and Gil Kane, each of whom is/was a panel unto himself. More is not always better because, with so many up there, no one gets to speak
very often, which means their minds drift. General rule of thumb: When your panelists aren't paying attention, neither is your audience.
That is, if you can even keep an audience.
I prefer panels with only a few participants. Seven is the max, five is better, three is just fine. Some of the best
convention events I've hosted were just me interviewing one fascinating human being.
A large mistake that I think some conventions make is as follows: Whoever's in charge of programming thinks up some interesting (to
him) topic, paying little or no attention to the expertise of the folks who'll be available to speak to said topic. He'll decide there should
be a panel on — and these are all real-world examples — "Morality in Comics" or "The Art of the Fight Scene" or "The Karma of
Super-Heroes." Then he will populate this panel with guests who have no interest in addressing the topic (assuming they even understand it,
which is not always the case) and it will be unenthusiastically attended by fans who'd rather hear those people talk about their actual work.
The topic of the panel should flow from those available to appear on it, not the other way around.
Anyway, I'll have more to say when I get around to writing up a whole column or two for Comics Buyers' Guide. For now, I'll just say that if you weren't at the con this time, start saving
your dimes for next year, because it was great. If you were there, you have no need of my encouragement. You're already setting aside the
money...and wondering where the hell you're going to park.
A RECENT ADDITION to this site: I've posted an article I wrote about how someone was bootlegging statues of our boy Groo.
You can read it by clicking here, I'll bet.
Click here to read the previous NEWS FROM ME